The much-anticipated government report on “UAPs,” popularly known as UFOs, was widely viewed as something of a disappointment.
The nine-page report, released on a Friday night during the heat of summer, seemed almost designed to leave as little impact as possible. There is, admittedly, a lot of random debris floating around in the sky, and people make mistakes, regardless of their professional reputation; the report confirms that the vast majority of sightings have mundane, logical explanations.
For UFO-enthusiasts, however, there were a few takeaways that offered a glimmer of hope, such as the acknowledgement that many UFO sightings are not actually being reported, due to fear of embarrassment and reputational damage.
Now that such reports are being taken more seriously, we’re likely to see a massive increase in sightings. And to be frank, there’s been quite a lot already – the report only cites sightings from between 2004 and 2021, but the modern UFO phenomenon has been around for more than a century.
Intriguingly, the report confirms that some of these sightings not only lack an explanation, but exhibit seemingly impossible flight patterns. There are no less than 18 incidents where UFOs “appeared to remain stationary in winds aloft, move against the wind, maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, without discernible means of propulsion.”
Of course, unexplained sightings do not amount to evidence of advanced extraterrestrial life – when diagnosing patients, physicians often say: “when you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras.”
Dull, earthly explanations, like the deflated balloon cited in the report, are infinitely more likely than fantastical sci-fi stories.
But for UFO-enthusiasts who really, truly “want to believe,” the report was somewhat encouraging, legitimizing a question that believers have often been stigmatized for asking (amusingly enough, X-Files creator Chris Carter wasn’t impressed by the report).
Perhaps there’s only one way to view the unexplained sightings, and that is through a simple thought experiment – if an alien civilization were sufficiently advanced, to the point where they can travel faster than light itself, why do their spacecraft keep being sighted, filmed and photographed by the great apes of Earth? And why are said photographs and footage always so grainy?
The number of UFO sightings (including notable, unexplained sightings), are so high that they suggest alien spacecraft have been whizzing around our planet, repeatedly, for several decades. Didn’t they collect enough data the first time? What makes our planet so special, our species so interesting, our sphincters so inviting to probe?
Believers, of course, have already thought about this, and have their own explanations. Some of them get pretty wild, some are fun, harmless speculation, and some embrace the worst excesses of pseudoscientific thinking and feverish conspiratorial suspicions.
Carl Sagan, the famed astronomer, is, sadly, no longer around to give his take. But I believe his thoughts on the UFO phenomenon, back when it was first exploding into popularity, remain relevant.
Sagan was incredibly excited by the possibility of advanced extraterrestrial life (he was heavily involved in the creation of the Golden Record, launched into space in the hope that an alien might give it a listen), but he always stressed the importance of “extraordinary evidence.”
Sagan viewed the collective longing to believe in UFO sightings and alien visitations as a psychological phenomenon, akin to a religious conviction.
Referencing the anxieties of the Cold War, Sagan stated:
“… people were, in their heart of hearts, worried that the human species would not pull through. What more comforting belief that aliens would come down and intervene?”
This simple, yet profound, observation rings especially true today, in the age of climate breakdown, the global pandemic, political turmoil and mass misinformation. No one, it seems, is descending down from the heavens, to take the responsibility of caring for Earth and steering human civilization away from us, into the hands of extraterrestrial adults.
The longing for someone, anyone else to be in charge of humankind’s destiny isn’t the sole motivation for belief in UFOs. But there’s a big difference between believing in extraterrestrial life (which seems almost a certainty, according to astrobiologists), and believing that said extraterrestrials regularly come and visit us.
Instead of scanning government reports for clues of an X-Files cover-up, we might be wise to ask ourselves why we really want to believe in the first place.